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Interfaith calendar - Holy Days, celebrations and Festivals in May 2012

Interfaith Calendar – Holy Days, Celebrations and Festivals in May 2012

Interfaith calendar dates are shown using the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Dates determined by the lunar calendar may vary by region. Jewish festivals usually begin at sunset on the previous day.

Interfaith calendar - Holy Days, celebrations and Festivals in May 2012It’s May already and time for this month’s interfaith calendar of celebrations, festivals and holy days around the globe.

Fittingly, May 1st brings us Beltane, the Pagan fire festival welcoming the Summer and the hopes of  a fertile year. On a more local level, on May 1st the Defining Moves household are welcoming the coming of the Grandmother, complete with chocolate, teabags and crepe production capabilities, so we too will be hoping for a fruitful season..



Beltane (Pagan)

See above. Pagan traditions associated with May 1st (May Day) survive in many Scandinavian and European countries, such as the May Day bank holiday, the May pole and many other practices historically linked with celebrations of fertility and abundance.



End of Ridvan (Bahai)

“This twelve-day period (April 21 – May 2) celebrates the time in 1863 when Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed His Mission as God’s Messenger for this age at a garden in Baghdad, that became known as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise).” Gary Heise

It is celebrated with communal prayers and a day of rest.

Birthday of Guru Arjan (Sikh)

Guru Arjan (the fifth Sikh Guru and first Sikh Martyr) is most remembered for collating the previous four Guru’s teachings into one book – known as the Guru Granth Sahib. In doing so, he included work from Hindu and Muslim saints, and was subsequently martyred when he refuse to remove them.

He is also responsible for laying the foundation of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, creating the idea of  the four doors in a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) and for introducing the idea of a ten percent charitable tithe.



Wesak (Buddhist)

Buddhists celebrate Wesak (the Buddha’s Birthday) on the first full moon in May. It is considered the most important date in the Buddhist calendar, and is associated with achieving enlightenment.

It is traditionally celebrated by discarding out the old and welcoming the new, so homes are cleaned and decorated, by leaving offerings at the temple and by praying and bathing the Buddha with water.



Lag B’Omer (Jewish)

Celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer , Lag B’Omer commemorates the death of Shimon bar Yochai, and in modern Jewish tradition, the revolt against the Roman Empire. It is seen as celebrating the strength of the Jewish character.


17 / 20

Ascension Day (Christian / Catholic Church of England and Wales)

Following Christ’s resurrection on Easter day, Ascension Day / Sunday celebrates the ascent  of Christ into Heaven in the presence of his disciples.



Yom Yerushalayim

Also known as Jerusalem Day, it marks the reunification of the Old City in 1967.



Declaration of the Bab (Bahai)

The Bab was the predecessor to Bahá’u’lláh, and was responsible for paving the latter’s way. He announced the coming of Bahá’u’lláh on this date in 1844.



St Bede the Venerable (Christian)

A 8th century English Christian monk and scholar, Bede wrote the bestselling “Ecclesiastical History” which is still in print, and a definitive Latin Bible edition.



Pentecost (Christian)

Celebrated on the 50th day after Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Holy Trinity. Celebrated in Christian churches throughout the world, priests wear red to symbolize the flames accompanying the holy spirit to earth.


Celebrated 50 days after Passover, Shavuot is the second of the Jewish harvest festivals, and also marks the date that Jews were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is celebrated with the recitation of prayers, by decorating with flowers and the eating of dairy products.



Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh

Marking the death of Bahá’u’lláh in 1892, followers of Bahai observe a day of rest and prayer.


Further Reading





Cultural Identity and Strange Hats.. Happy St David’s Day!

I miss home. In relocation terms, they call it your ‘home location’, but since 2005, we haven’t lived there, so ‘home’ has become a bit of a moveable feast. But every so often, I feel a huge sense of sadness about the people and the place that I consider my own.

Wales is not a huge country, so its traditions rarely make it to the world stage.  Most people I meet refer to it as being ‘part of England’, and I marvel at how somewhere that is such an integral part of my identity could be so little understood. It makes me understand the importance of cultural identity, and the power it has over our sense of belonging somewhere, being part of a group, something bigger than just us.

Today is St David’s Day. He’s the patron saint of Wales, and to celebrate the day, children in Wales go to school wearing Welsh national costume and a daffodil or a leek. (There is a reason that no Welsh contender has ever won Miss World, and I’m thinking it may have something to do with the regional costume round.) Somewhere in my mother’s photograph album, there is a cracked, curled photograph of me at the age of four wearing the traditional black hat, tartan shawl and white apron. I have one of the Feisty One at the same age, in an identical outfit. We both stand looking vaguely ridiculous, but bursting with pride at being part of something.

Its the sense of permanence that we’ve lost. So today, I’m going to find it again.

It’s St David’s day. I’m decorating with daffodils, and we’re having Welsh cakes. Care to join us?


Welsh Cakes  (makes 15-18 cakes)

  • 225 g /8 oz self –raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 110 g /4 oz  butter
  • 75 g /3 oz  sugar
  • 75 g /3 oz currants (or raisins or sultanas if you prefer)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Zest of half a lemon (optional)

Sieve the flour and spice into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can do this in a food processor, which speeds things up). Add the sugar, lemon zest and dried fruit. Pour in the beaten egg and stir to make a firm dough. On a floured board, roll or press the dough to 5 mm /1/4 inch thick and cut into circles with a 4-5 cm/2 inch cutter. Cook on a medium hot griddle , turning once until golden brown on both sides but still soft in the middle.

If you don’t own a griddle you can use a heavy based (preferably cast iron) frying pan that has been lightly buttered.


Interfaith Calendar – Holy Days, Celebrations and Festivals in February 2012

Photo courtesy of morning_rumtea

February seems to be food month for many of the world’s religions – either as part of  the celebration of the transition from Winter to Spring, or the feasts marking beginning or end of a period of fasting. Here’s your interfaith calendar for February; dates are shown using the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Some dates may vary regionally because they are determined by the lunar calendar. Jewish festivals usually begin at sunset on the previous day.


Candlemass (Christian)

Also known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, it marks the day that Mary took Jesus to the Temple to present him to God.

Imbolc / Oimelc / Candlemass (Pagan)

Celebration of the changing of the seasons and the growing strength of the sun


Rissun / Setsuban (Shinto)

The Festival of the change of the season from Winter to Spring, celebrated by the scattering of beans in the home and the temple.


Milad un Nabi / Mawlid an Nabi (Muslim)

The birth of the Prophet Muhammed is celebrated today by large numbers of Sunni Muslims. Because it is also the date of his death, it is considered a quiet holiday, and is marked by the retelling of stories about the Prophet Muhammed’s life by parents to their children.


Magha Puja (Buddhist)

Also known as Fourfold assembly day.


Parinirvana – Nirvana Day (Buddhist)

Marks the anniversary of Buddha’s death and his achievement of nirvana (enlightenment) at the age of 80.

Tu B’Sherat (Jewish)

The Jewish celebration of Spring, the ‘New Year for Trees’, and a day when ‘fruits’ associated with the Torah often eaten, namely wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.


Milad un Nabi / Mawlid (Muslim)

The marking of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed for Shia Muslims.


Our Lady of Lourdes (Christian)

Marks the first time the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette in a vision (1858).


St Valentine’s Day (Christian, Secular)

First celebrated in 496, this festival is historically associated with fertility, and is now seen worldwide as a day to celebrate love. It is often marked by the sending of anonymous cards and gifts to loved ones.


Nirvana Day  (Buddhist)

Alternate date to the 8th February.


Mahashivrati (Hindu)

The festival honoring Shiva, one of the Deities of the Hindu Trinity. It is traditionally celebrated by overnight fasting, and the dedication of food prepared from seasonal fruits and vegetable, which are then eaten for ‘break fast’ the next morning.


Shrove Tuesday / Pancake Day / Mardi Gras (Christian / Secular)

Marks the day before Lent begins, and is derived from the ancient ritual of ‘shriving’ – confession sins. The practice of eating pancakes comes from the need to use up perishable foods before the 40 days of Lenten fasting begins. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) has the same origins.


Ash Wednesday (Christian)

The first day of Lent, traditionally marked by fasting to represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness.


Clean Monday (Christian Orthodox)

The beginning of Great Lent in the Christian Orthodox calendar.

Happy New Year!

It’s the end of a rollercoaster year that saw the Defining Moves website accidentally launched with this post, attract its first non-coerced subscriber (thank you, Rosemary!) and now have logged over 6000 pageviews. So, to everyone who has taken the time to read, comment, inspire and inform this website, I would like to wish a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012. Please keep reading, sharing and entertaining me with your comments – it’s good to know I’m not the only one getting it wrong on a global scale.. (Including whoever took this wonderfully evocative  – but to the British, rather less polite –  example of cultural sensitivity and the hand gesture.. sigh.)





5 Simple Steps to Staying in (Social) Shape

Everyone loves to receive a card in the mail, and never more so than when you are 4000 miles away from home. And while most of us send out holiday cards once a year, birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations are often left to a last minute message on Facebook. So here’s a step by step guide to successfully mastering the original social media; going back to basics, putting it in writing, and getting it there on time.

1. Update your contact list. Right now, you will probably be displaying holiday cards from most of the people who are important to you. Before you file the cards away or send them for recycling, use them to update your contact list and add any new children, friends or addresses. If you don’t keep addresses on computer, now is a great time to start – either on a desktop program such Outlook or Address book, or online on Yahoo, Gmail or a card company like Moonpig.com. I like Plaxo.com for basic online storage and automatic syncing to smartphones – it takes a little getting used to, but it makes merging duplicate contact details simple, and will let you print off a complete list or individual labels.

2. Make group lists. While you are sitting down with all your contacts in one place, make lists of those who you want to send greeting cards to. Group them under headings like ‘birthday’, ‘anniversary’, ‘religious holiday’ (remember to group under the specific holiday) ‘thank you’ or ‘keep in touch’.

3. Set reminders. If you are using Outlook (PC) or Address book (Mac) or Plaxo.com, there is not an attached reminder function, so you will need to enter them into a calendar. It doesn’t matter whether you use a printed calendar, a desktop one or an online reminder system, you just need one that you pay attention to and gives you enough time to buy, write and mail a card. Two weeks is usually a good rule of thumb – it doesn’t matter if the card arrives a few days early, and it allows for the idiosyncrasies of weekends, holidays and international mail. Good online options for travelers include Cozi.com which will send a reminder via text or email, or Moonpig.com, which emails you a reminder and will also allow you to send customized cards direct from its site, wherever you happen to be in the world. Cozi has a million and one other fabulous functions, but no address book, whereas Moonpig.com does store addresses that you have used, making it a cinch for future years.

4. Buy back-up cards. You’ll be heading to the stores to restock on groceries at some point over the next few days, so grab a few one-size-fits-all cards while you are there. Make sure you buy standard size rectangular ones, with no extra weight or decoration, so that you can be sure of postage costs. In the US, square cards are charged at an additional rate, and the padding needed for many popular decoupage cards takes them over the weight limit for a standard postage stamp. They also often get caught in sorting machines, and are more of a target for tampering / customs inspection in places where hand sorting is still used. If you are determined to include cash, use a standard office type envelope rather than the colored birthday card one for the same reason.

5. Send out a fill-in-the-blanks email. If you are missing information, send out a New Year greetings email with a request for the relevant bits, and update your lists before their reply gets lost in email swamp. If email doesn’t work, try Facebook, Twitter or other social media, but make sure you use the private message function rather than plastering their private details across the internet..

6. Sit back and enjoy!

Spiritual Enlightenment – Holy Days, Celebrations and Festivals in December.

I would like to pretend that my time spent relocating has given me a greater cultural sensitivity and profound understanding of global spiritual beliefs. Sadly, instead it has just given me far greater scope for gaffes and a wider network of people to inadvertently offend. Thankfully, the people I have met have been endlessly forgiving, and even amused by my blunders, but in an attempt to help you avoid the many and varied pitfalls that I have stumbled into, here’s my breakdown of religious festivals  and cultural celebrations that fall in December. And for full disclosure, there are references at the bottom to prove that I haven’t in fact just made it all up. Should I have omitted one, please feel free to add an explanation in the comments section at the bottom, but please note that “Jedi Knight” will not be accepted.. (Photo of 11th Century Celtic Cross in Pembrokeshire, otherwise known as home..)


5 – Ashura (Islamic, Muslim)Ashura is a religious observance marked every year by Muslims. The word ‘ashura literally means “10th,” as it is on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year and is now recognized for different reasons and in different ways among Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

Ashura has been a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims since the days of the early Muslim community. It marks two historical events: the day Nuh (Noah) left the Ark, and the day that Musa (Moses) was saved from the Egyptians by Allah. Shi’a Muslims use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, in 680 CE, and mark it with expressions of grief and mourning.

6 – St. Nicholas Day (International)

8 – Bodhi Day – Buddha’s Enlightenment (Buddhist) On Bodhi day many Buddhists celebrate Gautama’s attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India.

8 – The Immaculate Conception celebrated by Catholics who follow the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which teaches that Mary, the mother of Christ, was conceived without sin. Mary’s sinless conception is the reason why Catholics refer to Mary as “full of grace”. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by Catholics on December 8th each year.

21 – Hanukkah (Jewish) – (Hebrew word for dedication) begins on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. It lasts for eight days beginning at sunset the previous day and is also known as the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah celebrates the victory (165 BCE) of the Maccabees over the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV and the subsequent reclamation of Jerusalem. According to the Talmud, only a one day supply of nondesecrated oil was found in the Temple when the Maccabees prepared it for rededication by removing all Syrian idols. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days until oil that was fit for use in the temple could be obtained.

This miracle is commemorated by the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. The candles are placed on the menorah or hanukkiya, a nine-branch candelabrum. The ninth branch of the hanukkiya holds the shamash, or servant light. This branch is lit first and is used to light a new candle on successive nights. The candle lighting is accompanied by the chanting of blessings. During Hanukkah, gifts are exchanged and children often play the dreidl game.

12 – Our Lady of Guadelupe (Catholic) Celebrated by Roman Catholics throughout Central and South America who honour the Empress of the Americas.

13 – Santa Lucia Day  the feast day of Santa Lucia / Saint Lucy marked by Catholics and Orthodox Christians and also celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church. Celebrations take place in the USA and Europe, especially Scandinavia.

16-25 – Las Posadas (Mexico) is a traditional Mexican festival which re-enacts Joseph’s search for room at the inn. Each Christmas season, a processional carrying a doll representing the Christ Child and images of Joseph and Mary riding a burro walks through the community streets. The processional stops at a previously selected home and asks for lodging for the night. The people are invited in to read scriptures and sing Christmas carols called villancicos. Refreshments are provided by the hosts. The doll is left at the chosen home and picked up on the next night when the processional begins again. This continues for eight nights in commemoration of the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

22 – Winter Solstice – Yule (Pagan) – the time when the sun child is reborn, an image of the return of all new life born through the love of the Gods. Within the Northern Tradition Yule is regarded as the New Year.The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

25 – Christmas (Christian, Roman Catholic, International, Protestant) (7 January for Orthodox Christians). Christmas is a Christian holy day that marks the birth of Jesus, the son of God and has been celebrated by Christians for more than 1600 years. Christmas (from Old English Cristes maesse or “Mass of Christ”) is observed annually on December 25 although the exact date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Christmas season begins on the First Sunday of Advent and ends on Epiphany.

Christmas is also a popular secular holiday which focuses upon the many versions of St. Nicholas and other traditions such as Christmas carols, mistletoe, Christmas cards, and giftgiving. Children write letters to Santa Claus and tell him what they’d like to receive for Christmas. With help from his elves, Santa prepares the gifts and then, on Christmas Eve, he leaves the North Pole in his reindeer-guided sleigh. Rudolph leads the reindeer across the sky and onto each housetop. Santa carries the gifts down the chimney at each home and places them under the Christmas tree. Usually, the children of the house leave cookies and milk for Santa. Santa Claus is known by other names in different parts of the world. For example, in Germany, he is known as Kris Kringle (from Christkindle or “Christ child”) while the French call him Pere Noel. Many people celebrate Christmas with elements of both the religious observances and the secular rituals. However, some Christians reject the customs with pagan origins and many secularists discount the story of Christ’s birth. Regardless of whether the celebration is religious or secular, the main spirit of the season remains.

26 – Boxing Day (Canada, United Kingdom) / St Stephen’s Day. St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is associated with the distribution of alms to the poor, and Boxing Day is typically the day when gifts of appreciation are given. The day is also called the Feast of Stephen, noted in the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.

26 – Kwanzaa (African-AmericanKwanzaa is an African-American cultural festival beginning on December 26 and ending on January 1. The festival was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Dr. Karenga’s goal was to establish a holiday that would facilitate African-American goals of building a strong family, learning about African-American history, and developing unity.While developing the new holiday, Dr. Karenga studied many African festivals and found many of them to be harvest related. Because of this, he named the celebration Kwanzaa from the Kiswahili word meaning “first fruits.” Karenga identified seven principles, the Nguzo Saba, of the African-American culture and incorporated them into Kwanzaa. The principles are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). Each day of Kwanzaa focuses upon one of the seven principles. After a candle-lighting ceremony, participants discuss what the principle means to them. Gifts are also exchanged during this time. A Karamu (feast) featuring traditional food, a ceremony honoring ancestors, music, and dancing is held on December 31.

New Year’s Eve. A secular celebration of the end of the Old Year of the Gregorian calendar, and  is a time for making resolutions, and starting afresh. Usually associated with wanting to be richer, thinner, fitter, kinder, and more determined,  resolutions typically last until the second week in January…


Interfaith calendar
Bodhi Day
The Immaculate Conception
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Las Posadas
Winter Solstice





I live in a country that spent $66.28 billion on Halloween last year – it is the second largest holiday after Christmas. And I hate Halloween. Halloween is Hell.

There are a number of reasons for this antipathy, the primary one being that I loathe the color orange. It is a source of amusement amongst those who know me, to the point that they either avoid wearing the color when around me, or deliberately choose it to see how I react. I don’t have orange furnishings in the house, I regift orange flowers, and I have a clause in my will forbidding bronze crysanthemums at my funeral or on my grave. And yes, I know it’s irrational, but as obsessions go, it is pretty innocuous.

I also find the whole costume thing a little alarming. As the mother of a 10 year old girl, the selection of a costume takes weeks of planning and preparation, and culminates in the purchase of a wildly overpriced conglomeration of man-made fabrics, hastily sewn together in some oppressive sweatshop in foreign lands, with a carbon footprint the size of Brazil. It is, however, the only costume in the 14 halloween store that you have visited that doesn’t make her look like she’s auditioning for Jersey Shore, so you are just going to have to live with it. Once you have swallowed your pride, your principles and your misgivings, you finally cough up the money only to be told the minute the return period expires that she’d like to be something else instead. So far this year, we have been through Bumble Bee, Peacock, Pirate, Ancient Roman, and have finally landed on Diner Waitress. Go figure.

In Britain, we tended to get less excited about the whole Halloween thing. We did have a few trick or treaters, but a scary mask or some fake blood pretty much covered it on the costume front. Houses welcoming trick or treaters had a pumpkin on the front porch, and were widely enough spread apart that by the time you’d visited four, you were exhausted, had eaten all the candy and were ready to return home.

Which explains why my sister was approached last year by a friend with two preschool children who wanted to go trick or treating for the first time. By warning various other parents in advance, she could guarantee success, both on the friendly reception and the candy fronts. My sister, being a community spirited sort, readily agreed, and proceeded to make plans for the impending visitors. These involved my niece keeping the children occupied by talking to them through the letterbox so that they would come close to the front door, while my sister snuck around the side of the house in an impromptu costume fashioned in traditional style from an old sheet. The plan was that Sarah would creep up behind them with a time honored “wooooo”, doff the sheet swiftly to minimize nightmares, and hand over the candy to ensure that everyone remained happy.

Unfortunately, the plan was not without flaws, which swiftly became apparent when the doorbell rang at the allotted hour. My niece bent down to talk through the letterbox as instructed, only to treat the waiting revelers to an eye watering view of her cleavage. She soldiered on gallantly, despite the considerable noise being caused by the ‘ghost’, who was now stumbling noisily over three boxes of jars and cans for recycling that were littering the side alley. Furthermore, in an effort to preserve a perfectly good bedsheet, my sister had opted not to cut eyeholes – a decision that not only meant that her approach was less than silent, but also that she was unable to see the inadequate number of legs, nor the panicked expression on the my niece’s face. Having ruined the silent approach, Sarah tried to make up for it with a particularly bloodcurdling wail, which was met with a stunned silence. Anxious that she had petrified the children, she lifted the sheet, to be greeted by the gobsmacked face of a completely unknown father and son, who had just been treated to a live example of why one should never take candy from strangers..